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February 7, 2009 permalink
A rally in Washington promoted by senator Pam Roach attracted a hundred and fifty people to the state capital Olympia.
Published February 06, 2009
Rally seeks greater rights for families in DSHS cases
Jan Smith of Nisqually began her battles with state Child Protective Services a year and a half ago, when her grandson was taken from a hospital by a social worker.
Her daughter was abusing drugs and Smith wanted to take over care for the child, she said. But the boy was sent to live with a foster family interested in adopting him, she said.
"Blood relatives are of no consequence. I had no rights," Smith said. "It's a public policy I'm interested in changing."
She and about 150 others rallied at the Capitol to demand more consideration from the Department of Social and Health Services, which is tasked with protecting children from abuse.
"We have gone so far in giving boundless authority to these social workers. They can do as they please," said Dave Wood of Washington Families United, which sponsored the rally.
The department recognizes how important staying with relatives can be for vulnerable children and has been moving more children to those homes, said department spokesman Thomas Shapley.
Research shows that children placed with relatives have fewer behavioral problems and switch homes less frequently than children placed with foster parents, he said. About 38 percent of the children removed from their homes in Washington are placed in what is known as kinship care.
"It's the first logical thing to do if it's safe for the child and ultimately in the child's best interest — remain with the extended family, in familiar surroundings with familiar people," Shapley said.
But Wood said that the rate of relative placements should be doubled. And complaints against the department have reached an all-time high of 1,200 in two years, according to a recent report by the Office of the Family and Children's Ombudsman.
A broad assortment of activists recounted emotional stories Thursday, many saying they were treated with disdain by state employees.
"They use that argument against you a lot: if you couldn't deal with the adult child, then you can't deal with your grandchild," Smith said. But the troubles of an adult shouldn't reflect on the ability of grandparents to care for their grandchildren, she said.
Smith said she contacted social workers and lawmakers and picketed outside a state office while trying to regain custody of her grandson. After 18 months and four rounds of parenting classes, her daughter had the boy returned to her, Smith said.
The department cannot confirm details of individual custody cases because they are legally private.
Smith formed two groups to advocate for relatives' custody rights: Washington State Extended Families and Citizens for Family Preservation. They are part of the effort that led to Thursday's rally, the first of its kind that organizers could remember.
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, promoted the event and said it was prompted by cases in which the state failed to stop abuse, including one in which a 14-year-old Carnation girl was starved.
"On one hand, they don't protect kids. On the other, they take kids away from parents," Roach said.
She touted several bills she has proposed to change the child welfare system. Among her ideas are splitting DSHS, the largest state agency, into several smaller agencies, boosting grandparents' legal standing, and requiring volunteers appointed by the court to represent children to report their financial and family status.
Adam Wilson covers state workers and politics for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-753-1688 or email@example.com.
Source: The Olympian
Addendum: For skeptics, here is a picture of some of the ralliers from the blog of Pam Roach. In Washington, they don't make people stay out in the winter cold.